New Project! 1970s E-Ink @YouTube Counter

This iconic digital clock from the 1970s now has a new life stylishly displaying YouTube statistics. It’s powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero and harnesses a simple Python script to retrieve Subscriber and View numbers for the Old Tech. New Spec. channel from the YouTube Data API, displaying the results on a Pimoroni Inky pHAT display.

The clock’s original alarm on/off switch now toggles the e-ink display between Views and Subscribers, and an inbuilt LED glows up the translucent red plastic around the display as it updates.

It’s a fun & practical addition to my office, sitting quietly on my desk speaker, and seeing the stats slowly increase helps keep me motivated to make more projects and videos. It also won First Prize in the recent Instructables Internet of Things Contest!

I bought this clock a year or two back, bundled with an old robot toy, and it was in daily use until it went pop recently – when it joined the ranks of broken Old Tech in the workshop awaiting conversion. The build was straightforward and involved a lot of precise measuring, as well as my favourite Raspberry Pi companion, Lego bricks!

I’m really pleased with the result and it’s a lovely looking little thing – nice coverage on the Hackster Blog too!

The project is fully documented on Instructables and Hackster as usual, the code is on GitHub and of course there’s a YouTube video showing the code & build, with the normal criticism from my feline friends.

 

 

New Project! The @Raspberry_Pi PiNG Video Doorbell

The PiNG Video Doorbell is powered by a Raspberry Pi and is retro-stylishly cased in a 1986 Intercom and an old Sony cassette player.

When the doorbell button is pressed the Pi makes a high-quality video call using Google Duo, which can be answered on a phone, tablet or computer, letting you see and speak to callers when you’re away from home (or at home but trapped under a cat). It works over WiFi and cellular, so you can even answer the door when you’re out pounding the streets.

It also sounds a standard wireless door chime inside the house as a fail-safe, in case the call can’t be taken.

The doorbell unit is fitted outside the house, with a companion base unit inside, connected with 6-core alarm cable. The base unit houses a Pi 3B+ and is housed in a stripped-out cassette player.

It works amazingly well and the Google Duo sound and video is smooth – I took a call from a delivery person while out walking yesterday lunchtime  which was very exciting!

I started this project in early March and finished it at the Easter weekend, and it’s been an absolute barrel of fun, I’d highly recommend playing around with Google Duo on a Raspberry Pi! If you have a Pi and some bits lying around you can probably make something similar in a couple of hours.

There are full project write-ups with instructions, photos and code at the links below:

Instructables: https://www.instructables.com/id/1986-Raspberry-Pi-Video-Doorbell

Hackster: https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/1986-ping-video-doorbell-30b666

 

 

Coming Soon

The workshop has embraced the Spring thaw, the office is freshly renovated and now I’m elbow-deep in a brand new Raspberry Pi project, hoping to release the YouTube video & detailed write-ups on Instructables and Hackster in the next couple of weeks if all goes well. I’ve really missed the smell of solder and melted plastic over the winter months.

Click click click

I’m keeping a lid on the exact details for now, but as Wallace said in The Wrong Trousers it’s hopefully going to be a “valuable addition to our modern lifestyle”.

Arr I spy two pirates

It’s a pretty straightforward build, with easily modified Python code, some moderate hardware hacking, and more than a sprinkle of Google.

Some hacking, some chopping

Stay tuned for further updates and more teaser photos!

A Case of Zero Security

I picked up an official Pi Zero case at the Pi Store last week and only opened it yesterday – I’m notoriously easily pleased but was thrilled to find there were three different case tops included! Plus, as icing on the cake, a tiny cable to connect a Pi camera module tidily inside one of the lids.

official-raspberry-pi-zero-case-prt-14273-enclosures-sparkfun-cool-components_864_x700

As luck would have it I already had a Pi Zero W handy and set up with MotionEye so it took minutes to clip the whole thing into place. I’ve been looking for a nice security camera case for a while and this ticked all of the boxes at once.

I tried it on the dining room wall but the field of vision didn’t cover the whole room – something that was rectified by a £5 set of smartphone lenses from Tiger  – the set came with a fisheye and “diamond” lens but the Wide Angle one was perfect for the job. While there I also picked up a 3 metre white USB cable for £3, which let me mount the camera high up in the room.

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Cheap wide angle lens superglued to the case.

The lens was easily superglued to the case, and I made a bracket out of Lego to hold it at just the right angle near the slope of the ceiling. The case was fixed to the bracket using 3m self-adhesive velcro pads (on special this week at Lidl)

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Fixed to the wall with sticky velcro pads

To finish the job I tidied the cable with some thin self-adhesive conduit, which is mostly tucked away behind a curtain. I’m so pleased with the end result, it only took about a half-hour to put everything together and it looks really clean and subtle on the wall. Now I can keep an eye on the cats without needing them to wander right in front of the camera!

This was also a great first experiment with camera lenses – my next big Pi project is camera “focussed” and we’ll be using the wide angle lens again as part of the build. Maybe not a pink one this time though.

We’re in the MagPi Issue 78!

Very excited to have a project featured in the MagPi this month, it’s a vintage Hitachi television I converted last year. It displays digital TV from another Raspberry Pi running a TV HAT, and uses the original rotary tuning dial to change channels.

As you can see hard copies are available in shops as well as the pdf version online. It’s a great issue all round and I’ve already been inspired to grab some arcade joysticks and buttons to try out some of the tutorials.

The article covers my experiences using the TV Hat with a converted TV from the 1970s – the original TV build Instructable write-up is here and the more recent TV Hat version is here. The simple Python script used to change the channels is available on GitHub.

There’s also a YouTube video of the unboxing and setup of the TV Hat…

…and one that gives a bit more information about how the Hitachi Pi TV was converted.

I’ve always been fascinated by televisions, as evidenced by the photo they included of me unboxing my first TV, aged around 10. 

Rotary Tuning with the Pi #TVHAT

The Raspberry Pi TV HAT arrived a week or so ago and we’ve had great fun setting it up and using it. It does a great job of streaming a digital TV signal around the house, and I use it daily.

For me though the critical thing was being able to easily stream TV to other Raspberry Pis – I have several converted vintage TVs (Like the Hitachi Pi and Casio Pi) and really wanted them to be able to display actual live TV broadcasts.

With a bit of Python I now have the 1982 TV Experience live on the Hitachi Pi! It uses a script to step through four separate VLC playlists (to match the four channels we had in 1982) using the TV’s original rotary tuning dial. The script is on GitHub and is really simple – you could also just use a push button.

I’ve covered my experiences (with some assistance from the cats) in the “New Spec Review” video below, and the write-up is live on Hackster and Instructables.

The next project is definitely going to be finding and adapting a nice vintage case for the TV server Pi – stay tuned for updates!

 

 

 

 

New Project: Casio Pi CCTV Monitor

This is a sweet little Casio portable TV that I’ve converted into a handy CCTV monitor using a Raspberry Pi Zero W. It uses all of the original TV circuitry and the Pi is tucked away inside the battery cover. It’s ideal for keeping an eye on the cats or looking out for the postman!

It plays a video stream from a Pi Zero CCTV camera running MotionEye OS, but can equally play local files or any video stream using Omxplayer – it’s a great way to cheaply add a screen to a Pi project, as these old TVs can be powered from the same USB as the Pi and cost as little as £2 second hand.

The project is pretty straightforward and is fully documented on Instructables at…

https://www.instructables.com/id/Casio-Pi-Portable-CCTV-Monitor/

…and on Hackster at:

https://www.hackster.io/martin-mander/casio-pi-portable-cctv-monitor-e15607 

The build is also covered step by step on YouTube:

It’s the first project I’ve covered from start to finish with a video and it was a ton of fun. The video’s a bit longer than I would have liked but is split into chapters and these are linked from each section of the build on Instructables and Hackster at the links above. Now that I have the video template working and the recording equipment (mostly) behaving itself I hope to publish videos more regularly!

Autumnal OutRun

Another recent car boot find costing £2, a 1986 tabletop #OutRun game (or what’s left of it). This thing is absolutely trashed cosmetically, but has a strong look and an absolute ton of potential.

The main controls are a start button, high-low shifter on the left and that cool wheel. Amazingly it still kind of works, it chirps into life with a few beeps and bloops when you press the button and the LCD screen still partly shows the iconic OutRun car you’d control.

To be honest it was only when I took the LCD closeup pic today and saw the car that I realised it was an OutRun game, from there looking closely at the remaining sticker on the wheel I could just make out “Run”, confirming my hopes.

This would have been a really cool game at the time, and after researching what it looked like originally it’s accelerated quickly from the “to do” shelf onto the workbench.

And here it is in the 1989 Argos catalogue:

The thing is I just loved OutRun as a teenager, both in the arcades and on my Spectrum, playing Forza Horizon 4 with the kids yesterday really reminded me of those days. And oddly enough the cassette I used as a base for the “Old Tech. New Spec” branding is my very own original copy.

So here’s the plan.

  • Have it apart and figure out how the original controls work
  • Get the controls working with RetroPie
  • Possibly install an Adafruit Joy Bonnet in the centre of the wheel (to allow other games to be played, Mario Kart 64 runs great on a Pi 3 Model B+)
  • Install a 5″ 4:3 LCD TV in place of the existing LCD screen
  • Make some new bodywork, wheels etc and paint the whole thing, making some decals like the original.

It’ll be a decent-sized project but fun to build and well worth it to have my own unique bar-top OutRun game. Stay tuned for updates!

The Game: Basic Testing

Thanks to the GPIO planning and sticky labels it was straightforward to connect all of the prepared components to the Pi, though I still needed to use tweezers, that header is pretty crowded!

With all of the components connected I created several simple Python scripts to test the inputs and outputs and even managed to have a quick test of the game. This was a really nervous moment as I’d never tested the hook’s connection to the Rabbit Ears, but amazingly it worked fine. For fun I added in some of the Piezo buzzer sound effects and finally tried the game out for real – it was difficult and fun, just as I’d hoped!

Once the project is completed all of the code and documents will be shared on GitHub, for now it needs a lot of fine tuning to bring all of the elements together.

Now that the components are all ready and we know they (mostly) work, finishing off the case build and decoration is next. Once the cosmetics are done we get to the most exciting part, final assembly!

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears
8: A Concept but No Name
9: Case Mods
10: GPIO Planning

The Game: GPIO Planning

Once all of the components of the game had been soldered up or built it struck me how complex this thing had become. There were literally too many parts to hold in my head at once, so I decided to make a proper plan for how they would fit together.

I found it easiest to map out all of the inputs and outputs in a spreadsheet, working them out alongside a GPIO pinout diagram to try and ensure the connections would be as straightforward as possible.

I don’t normally go to this much effort when putting a project together as it’s the exciting part, but in this case it was really worthwhile and helped wrap my head around the 20 separate GPIO connections. It also highlighted that I needed two more 3.3v pins than were available, so I quickly soldered up a splitter to make this work.

Next I snipped up some old A4 sheets of CD labels (when did I last burn a CD?) and made sticky indicators for each cable, again to make the complicated wiring a bit more logical.

As well as helping with the wiring the spreadsheet should be a really handy guide when developing the code for the gameplay – I really wish I’d done this on some of my previous projects as their connections are a total mystery!

Next time we’ll be putting the components together and coming up with some basic code for testing.

It makes me very nervous that I don’t yet know whether the current will carry properly enough through the hook remote and rabbit ears for the Pi to detect it, but I guess we’ll find out!

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears
8: A Concept but No Name
9: Case Mods